Troubled past haunts Allen and his Hall of Fame chances

Dick Allen

Recognized as one of the most polarizing players of the last 50 years, Dick Allen is the best offensive player of his generation not enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He has one last chance to gain entry via the Golden Era Ballot when a committee gathers to vote in December during baseball's Winter Meetings.

By PATRICK GORDON, Managing Editor
November 17 2014, 7:00 am EST.
@Philabaseball

With steam billowing from the brim of his stained coffee mug, James Yangston eased into his favorite recliner in his suburban Philadelphia home and brought the beverage to his lips.

“Let me tell you, there’s no way we should even be having this conversation,” Yangston said, blowing steam away from his face. “He belongs in the Hall of Fame, no doubt about it.”

Yangston, a retired baseball writer, is referring to former Phillies third baseman Dick Allen, who now sits as one of 10 players up for Hall of Fame consideration via the Golden Era ballot. The 16-member Golden Era Committee will vote during the Winter Meetings in December; 12 votes are needed for enshrinement in Cooperstown.

“He’s one of the best I ever saw, and I saw plenty of the great ones,” Yangston said. "From Mickey and Aaron, to Clemente and Reggie [Jackson], Allen held his own."

Allen signed with the Phillies shortly before the 1960 season and made his big league debut in 1963. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 1964 and went on to appear in seven All-Star Games over 15 big league seasons.

Statistically, he stacks up with the best of his generation. He posted an OPS+ of 145 or greater in eleven seasons and his 156 career adjusted OPS+ ranks 19th all-time in major league history. He also put together two seasons of 9.0+ WAR; every eligible player to have accomplished that feat is in the Hall of Fame.

Yangston, 73, covered the majority of Allen’s nine seasons in Philadelphia for the Associated Press.

Sign hangs at Connie Mack Stadium during Allen's last game in Philadelphia in 1969.“He may have only played for a short time, but my-oh-my, was he something to see,” Yangston said. “His power was unmatched and he drove in runs like crazy. He attacked the ball with his swing and that was something you didn’t see much of during his day.”

Allen spent 14 years on the Hall of Fame ballot before losing eligibility in 1997. For enshrinement you need to appear on 75% of the ballots cast in a given year, Allen never appeared on more than 19%.

“There’s more to Allen than the statistics though,” said baseball historian Roger Tannasov. “He was a polarizing figure and writers despised him … that’s why he’s in the position he is right now.”

From habitually arriving to the ballpark late on game days and ignoring the press, to disrespecting managers and club executives, the list of allegations against Allen is exhaustive.

“He’d show up minutes before first pitch and be fined a decent amount of money, but then do the same thing a week later,” Yangston said. “He went through these spells where he was just not happy to be in Philadelphia, or not happy to be playing under a certain manager, and he’d make it known he was pissed off.”

Prior to reaching the majors, Allen found himself embroiled in controversy. He was a black ballplayer forced to deal with racial injustices throughout his minor league career, highlighted by a defining stint with the Phillies Triple-A affiliate in Little Rock during the 1963 season.

“I didn’t know anything about the racial issue in Arkansas, and didn’t really care,” Allen penned in his biography Crash: The Life and Times of Dick Allen. “Maybe if the Phillies had called me in, man to man, like the Dodgers had done with Jackie Robinson, at least I would have been prepared. Instead, I was on my own.”

Allen was besieged by racism, routinely dealing with racial taunts, prejudice, physical altercations and death threats.

“I’m sure some of his anger and abrasiveness was born in the fact he had to deal with some messed up things, especially early in his career,” Yangston said. “Even here in Philadelphia – this place wasn’t the easiest to live for a black person in the 1960s.”

Allen's career in Philadelphia was maligned. He performed well enough statistically to deserve admiration, but he handled himself in such a way that Philadelphia fans basically booed him out of Connie Mack Stadium. His relationship with the Philadelphia fans was so bad at times that he was forced to wear a helmet when playing in the field to avoid the bottles, rocks and other projectiles hurled his way.

"It was late in his time in Philadelphia and I remember him scrawling words or phrases in the infield dirt," Yangston said. "He'd use his cleat and write "Boo" or "I Want Out" and it infuriated the fans. They would hang banners around the upper deck of Connie Mack Stadium, just absolutely trashing Allen," Tannasov said.

The Phillies traded Allen to Saint Louis following the 1969 season. He went on to also spend time with the Dodgers and White Sox before being traded back to Philadelphia in May of 1975. He finished his career with a final season in Oakland.

"He was traded five times during his career," Tannasov said. "If you think about it, he only played for 15 years. His attitude just turned people off."

Move the calandar forward nearly 40 years and you'll now find Allen working in the Phillies' front office handling community and fan relations.  He was inducted into the Phillies Wall of Fame in 1994.

"As time passes, I think the numbers he put up are speaking louder than all the hoopla that surrounded his playing career," Tannasov said. "Time is supposed to heal all wounds, right?"

Allen will not publicly speak to his Hall of Fame candidacy, but there is a small contingent of supporters speaking out on his behalf led by his son Dick Allen Jr.

"There are plenty of guys that were rough around the edges that have a plaque in Cooperstown," Tannasov said. "Let's be realistic here, everyone in there isn't a saint."

The offensive numbers Allen put together during his career still hold up today and rank as some of the best of his generation. He falls on the cusp of Hall of Fame worthiness via Bill James' Hall of Fame Monitor metric and Jay Jaffe's WAR Score Hall of Fame System.

An easy argument can be made that Allen is the best hitter, not presently on the writers’ ballot, that's not in the Hall of Fame.

Ideally, that will change next month.

- The Philadelphia Baseball Review is the top baseball news source in Philadelphia, providing news coverage and analysis of  all things baseball related in the Philadelphia region.

5 comments:

Joe Ferry said...

Excellent assessment. The fact that 12 of the 16 voters are either baseball executives or guys who played with or against Dick is encouraging, since they will tend to judge him based on performance, not hearsay and rumor.

Rob Larsen said...

Do Yangston or Tannasov have some behind-the-scenes insight?

Patrick Gordon said...

Well, both knew him during his playing days and Yangston covered him in Philly. Both believe he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

whizkid50 said...

"the list of allegations against Allen is exhaustive", ENOUGH !!! .... the same tired refrain we hear all the time, but, the managers and players he played with say something different. He put up with a lot of 'static' in the 60's. Unless you were his color you can't identify. Let's look at his numbers and make this right (for a change) and give him his spot in the hall. He DESERVES to be there !!

Patrick Gordon said...

Whiz, I see your point, but there are two sides to this story. I believe he belongs in as he's arguably the best player not in the HOF right now. That said, to ignore what happened with him off the field would be foolish. I do think, however, that everything needs to be placed in context. Yes, he acted out, but the circumstances surrounding him and the treatment by fans were significant issues.